Monday, February 18, 2013


Please indulge me as I leave my adopted homeland. I'm writing a series called
 "Top Ten Things I Would Have Never Said in America" 

A hot cup of Rooibos tea
8.  I don’t take milk in my Rooibos.

 South Africans elevate tea to a new level. 

In America I drank coffee and that was it.  Starbucks could keep all of the foo-foo drinks, all I needed was coffee. 

And often.

Here there is a great English influence and tea is amazing.  Some are better than others, but my favorite is a red one called Rooibos. 

On my first trip to Africa, three guys from Bloemfontein (all future Pastors, mind you) took us under their wing.  We affectionately called them “The Bloem Boys” and we never ever would have figured them for pranksters.  In a camp-game of “Get the Americans” they hid the instant coffee and told us there was none. 
“We don’t drink coffee on these trips,” the Bloem Boys told me.  “We only drink Rooibos.”

“Okay,” I said, carefully.  I was nonplussed, but I had also been trained never to complain in the bush.  It was a sign of weakness.   I bit my lip and sucked it up….

“Wait until you taste it,” they said, waiting for the pot on the fire to boil.  “You’ll never want coffee again.” 
I found out that day that Rooibos was a name for a red tea they had here in South Africa.  They poured me the hot liquid and I had never before seen a tea with that color. 

It was delicious.

It had a smoky and bright flavor at the same time, and it tasted like a berry of some kind.  I later learned that “Rooi” means “red” in Afrikaans;  “bos” means “bush” – red bush tea. 

Made from the plant that looks more like a weed than a bush, Rooibos is grown only in the Western Cape of South Africa. The leaves are harvested, oxidized, and dried, producing a reddish-brown color that enhances the flavor.

It is said to contain antioxidants and have immune boosting properties.  Many South Africans drink it only when they are sick; many don’t like it at all.  I was an instant fan.

When the Bloem Boys surrendered the coffee (on the last day of the trip) I wondered how I managed without it.  I was addicted to caffeine and thought that maybe Rooibos was the cure for my addiction. 

Rooibos is basically an herbal tea, low in tannin and virtually devoid of caffeine.  This is the reason it’s so easy to drink.  It’s the best drink at night on the back porch when there’s a thunderstorm. It’s the best lift for afternoon weariness. 

Some people stir milk and sugar into it, but Mario and I like it best with a bit of honey.  It is sold in America, but the best brand is produced here in South Africa.  I am sure it has something to do with the African sun.

After dinner, as is the custom here, tea is served.  There is always a tray with a bowl of sugar, a pitcher of milk and maybe a few cookies on it. 

“What can I bring you?” our hostess will ask us.

“Rooibos, please,” we say.

“Milk and sugar?”

“No, thank you.”


“Yes, please.”

Recently when someone calls Rooibos plain, I want to object.  I want to tell them that it’s a gift from God. 
One of the little unexpected surprises that endeared us to this country.  

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